Cooking With (out) Gas: New Feed Additive Cuts Methane Emissions in Cattle

Cooking With (out) Gas: New Feed Additive Cuts Methane Emissions in Cattle

gas from cows

As any eight-year-old will tell you, cows are hilariously gassy. Not so funny: the, ahem, emissions of cattle are mostly methane – a greenhouse gas – making herds full of tooting bovines major contributors to global warming. While we humans work to ease up on the factory farming that requires all these animals to begin with, science is looking at other options to keep cows from burping us out of house and home.

One major innovation has just been approved for use by Brazil and Chile, two of the world’s biggest beef exporters. Bovaer is a cattle feed additive (produced by Dutch bioscience company Royal DSM) that has undergone 48 peer-reviewed studies over a decade-long testing period dubbed “Project Clean Cow.” Made up of 3-nitroxypropanol (a “bio-based alcohol”) and nitrate, Bovaer has been shown to significantly cut a herd’s methane emissions.

“São Paulo State University (UNESP) professor Ricard Reis said the supplementation with Bovaer was an efficient strategy to reduce methane emissions by finishing feedlot beef cattle, without adverse effects on performance.

A Royal DSM statement said just a quarter teaspoon of Bovaer per cow per day consistently reduces enteric methane emission by approximately 30 percent for dairy cows and even higher percentages (up to 90 percent) for beef cows. It described the product as ‘the most extensively studied and scientifically proven solution to the challenge of burped methane to date.’

Upon feeding, it takes effect immediately.[…] After suppressing methane production in the stomach, Bovaer is broken down into the same natural compounds again, which are already present and processed by the cow’s normal digestive and metabolic processes.”

This news is great for us (who need to hit the brakes on climate change by whatever means necessary), and for cows (who I bet are a lot more comfortable in the digestion department). With approval from Brazil and Chile as precedent, Royal DSM is looking to get Bovaer certified in other big cattle countries, including the U.S. and Australia. For insight into the Canadian market, I’m tempted to run this by my neighbours. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to understand them – I don’t speak Cow. But while we wait for our regulatory bodies to approve the additive, I’m sure I can brush up on my moos!

Science Uncovers Sweet News from Stingless Bees

DFC is proud to count ourselves among a fabulous group of local food producers. One of my favourite amazing products we get to enjoy in our area is glorious honey. I can really taste the difference between what we get here, and the stuff that comes in the bear-shaped squeeze bottles I used to buy in the city. So I’m fascinated by all aspects of honey production – and particularly a new study that looks at the sweet elixir produced by a type of bee I’ve never laid eyes on!  (Ain’t biodiversity great?)

Species of stingless bees can be found all over tropical parts of the planet. The honey they produce has been uniformly revered by local folks for its medicinal properties. Now, a group of scientists have analyzed this honey and uncovered the fact that it’s made up of a rare healthy sugar, that is transformed from regular old sucrose via a fascinating biological process.

The University of Queensland-based team was initially stumped by the presence of trehalulose, a type of sugar that is more slowly digested than regular sugars, and doesn’t cause those notorious “spikes.” The scientists thought it might come from one of the bees’ food sources or the tree resin with which they make their tiny honey-holding pots. (Their version of the North American honeybees’ combs.) They ran an experiment to see if they could increase the amount of trehalulose in the stingless bee honey, by starting with the basics. Said chemist and study leader Dr Natasha Hungerford:

“‘We fed confined colonies of the Australian stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria the most common sugars found in flower nectar – sucrose, glucose and fructose. What we found is that stingless bees have a unique capacity to convert sucrose to trehalulose and produce honey rich in trehalulose in their gut.’

Native plants such as Grevillea and Banksia are believed to have nectar high in sucrose, and it is believed bees feeding from these plants will naturally produce honey rich in trehalulose.

The team also found that stingless bees fed a solution containing table sugar could convert it into a ‘honey’ containing high levels of trehalulose. ‘But the “honey” they produce from table sugar does not meet the requirements of real stingless bee honey which is made from nectar,’ Dr Hungerford said.”

The team hopes that cracking the trehalulose mystery – and its connection to high-sucrose flowers – can lead to even healthier honey in the future. And all through the hard-working bees’ even harder-working digestive systems! We remain very lucky to have a relationship with these happy little pollinators. I hope we can help it continue a long while yet.

New Apples Still Don’t Fall Far From the Tree

Even though it’s officially a good two weeks away, as soon as the calendar page flips over to September I can’t help but start thinking FALL. I can’t wait to revel in bushels of the season’s best fruit – apples, hands down!

There are so many varieties now, as a layperson I’d think the apple industry doesn’t have to go out of its way to invent more. However, a team out of Ohio State University begs to differ; not only proposing brand new apple types entirely but automating the process –  through the power of science.

Their new analysis platform purports to take years, if not decades, off the traditional apple hybridization process. By using the platform as a drawing board, combining genetic traits affecting sugar levels, acids, and antioxidants, researchers can eventually predict what the offspring fruits will be like without the time investment of real-world breeding. Using this tool, the team hopes to maximize the healthfulness of the humble apple, while keeping flavour, yield, and hardiness in mind too.

There is some hard “core” (pun intended!) science at play here!

“Genome-wide analysis of each apple enabled identification of genetic markers associated with metabolites that influence traits like flavor, disease resistance and texture. The researchers used high-resolution mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance to detect phytochemicals in the apples in a “global” way –  an approach called untargeted metabolomics. […]

‘We looked for strong relationships at locations in the genome that are not well studied in apple and looked for which compounds we could identify and which had nutritional value. We could go from untargeted data all the way to finding candidate genes responsible for compound production –  which researchers can then validate,’ [Ohio State assistant professor Jessica] Cooperstone said.

There are 124 different apples currently in the database, all ready to be combined into new, more nutritious apples that people will already love because, well, they’re apples! I may be biased, but a fan of apples or not, biodiversity and careful selection to ensure the future of the fruit is a good thing for us all.

Edible Soccer Cups: Not Just For Championships

Soccer fans are internationally known for being, well… fanatics, mostly for their teams or, um, let’s call it “team-related identity politics”. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the U.K., where multiple teams, playing in different leagues in each city, engage in a complex net of rivalries. Manchester, for example, has seven professional clubs – one of which is taking on a delicious environmental challenge.

Etihad Stadium (home of the Manchester City team), is piloting a sustainable cup program at their concessions stands this season. They are serving coffee, tea, and hot cocoa in  compressed wafer tumblers that (in a reverse cookie-dunking move!) are made to be eaten once the drink is finished.

“The concept of the cup is much like an ice-cream cone. Hot contents are served in 220-milliliter (7.4 fluid ounce) wafer ‘cups,’ made of seven natural, vegan ingredients, chiefly wheat flour, oat bran, and water. They’re able to withstand high temperatures (of up to 85 degrees Celsius or 185 degrees Fahrenheit), due to a pressure heat treatment process; they don’t contain any sugar, wax, or artificial coatings.

Filled with hot liquid, the wafer stays leak-proof for up to 12 hours, and crispy for up to 45 minutes – the duration, conveniently, of one half of a soccer game. The bottom half of the cups are wrapped in a paper label, which is both recycled and recyclable, for easier gripping; and to ensure that the bottom of the biscuit doesn’t touch any surfaces. They’re designed to taste like a thin cookie dunked in a cup of coffee, and contain approximately 100 calories per cup.”

Scottish company BioBite (which was founded two years ago by a pair of University of Aberdeen students) are the innovators behind the cookie cups. The founders hope their invention will help eliminate a whole category of single-use paper products that currently plague public noshing. The Manchester trial also includes unwaxed, sustainable paper cups for beer sales – And thankfully so: I know I’d be thrilled to do my environmental bit by eating a cookie, but not one soaked in beer! If this innovation takes off, we may see it over here, and then I can try one and see.